Scholarly Series to Examine Emergence of German Social State

Lexington, VA • Thursday, September 30, 2010


Dr. Frank Schorkopf will lead off a series of events focused on post-WWII Germany.
This fall the German Law Journal will sponsor a series of interdisciplinary programs at Washington and Lee University School of Law aimed at exploring the connection between the economic and social devastation Germany faced after WWII and its constitutional commitment to the Sozialstaat – or principle of social justice.

The first of these events is set for 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 5 in Room 440, Sydney Lewis Hall. The guest speaker is Dr. Frank Schorkopf of the Institute for International and European Law at Georg-August-University in Göttingen, Germany. Dr. Schorkopf will lead a discussion on the foundations of Germany's constitutional principle of social justice.

The post-war German constitution (Grundgesetz or Basic Law) established "a democratic and social federal state."  In a recent decision the German Constitutional Court reaffirmed its longstanding view that the social facet of the German polity consists of a "fundamental right to the guarantee of a subsistence minimum … ensur[ing] to each person in need of assistance the material prerequisites that are indispensable for his or her physical existence and for a minimum of participation in social, cultural and political life." 

"This settled constitutional jurisprudence contrasts sharply with the indignation stirred by America's recently enacted health care reform legislation," says W&L law professor Russell Miller, who edits the German Law Journal. "Part of the mission of this series is to explore the social and historical factors that might explain the difference in the way the citizens of these countries interpret basic rights."

Miller notes that one possible explanation for Germany's constitutional commitment to social justice is the fact that the framers of the Basic Law wrote the post-war constitution amidst the absolute economic and social devastation in which Germany had been left by its war of aggression.  This period of widespread homelessness, dislocation and hunger is often referred to as the Trümmerzeit, or the "time of the rubble."

The series will include film screenings and lectures.  English historian and journalist Giles MacDonough, author of the book After the Reich (2008), will lecture on October 19. W&L history Professor Bill Patch will lecture on November 10 on the topic "'Socialism is our Christian Duty!' The Influence of Left-Wing Catholicism on the Drafting of the Basic Law."  The series will culminate in a student-faculty roundtable at which W&L students and other scholars will present their research on the question. A full schedule will be available soon.

The German Law Journal is the leading English-language legal periodical to comment on developments in German, European and international jurisprudence. The Journal is the most widely cited peer-reviewed, online law review in the world. The Journal's treatment of comparative and international law attracts more than two million site visits from more than 50 countries each year.

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